LinkedIn, eBay founders and pals kick in $27m to bring Jesus to AI bots

Yet another cash pile to 'better' machine learning with non-experts

LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman and eBay founder Pierre Omidyar are among a bunch of investors bankrolling a $27m fund to further AI ethics and accountability.

Specifically, the dosh will be used to bring non-engineers and people who haven't studied data science into the world of machine learning – from lawyers and economists to Christian leaders and other religious types.

The Ethics and Governance of Artificial Intelligence Fund will be overseen by the MIT Media Lab and the Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University. The organization will use the £22m war chest stumped up by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Omidyar Network, Hoffman and others.

“Artificial intelligence and complex algorithms in general, fueled by big data and deep-learning systems, are quickly changing how we live and work – from the news stories we see, to the loans for which we qualify, to the jobs we perform,” the Knight Foundation said in a statement.

“Because of this pervasive but often concealed impact, it is imperative that AI research and development be shaped by a broad range of voices – not only by engineers and corporations, but also by social scientists, ethicists, philosophers, faith leaders, economists, lawyers and policymakers."

The money will go toward funding AI projects and ethics research in a range of disciplines, including the humanities and social sciences.

AI is the latest trend to grip technology. As it continues to advance rapidly, governments, academic institutions and companies have been vocal about their concerns.

The US government published three official reports and held its first senate meeting about the potential disruption of AI last year. On the other side of the pond, the UK government has agreed to launch its own ethics board based at the Alan Turing Institute, after the Science and Technology Committee criticised the government’s lack of strategy for dealing with AI.

A large chunk of research is done by major technology companies, who have seduced academics away from their ivory towers with the promise of big bucks. Some of the biggest names, including Facebook, Google, Amazon, IBM and Microsoft, have joined forces to create the Partnership on Artificial Intelligence to Benefit People and Society.

It remains unclear what the Partnership is doing or has done besides creating a fancy website.

But other institutions, such as the Future of Humanity Institute at the University of Oxford and the Leverhulme Centre for the Future of Intelligence Institute at the University of Cambridge, frequently hold public lectures and publish papers on AI ethics.

A big fear is that as AI progresses, private companies might become more secretive about their technology.

Since AI is still in its infancy, most companies are happy to foster an open, collaborative environment for mutual benefit. Apple recently overturned its culture of secrecy implemented by Steve Jobs when it published its first official research paper [PDF] last month. ®

Call for papers: We're running a conference on machine learning in London in October – we'd love to hear your proposals for conference sessions and workshops.

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